Monday, September 27, 2010

Attorney general faults Kentucky League of Cities, City of Salyersville in open-records cases

The Kentucky League of Cities wrongly denied a Covington lawyer's request for information on how much the group paid its attorneys in a case he handled against them, the attorney general's office has ruled. The attorney general's decisions in open-records and open-meetings cases have the force of law unless overturned in court.

In another opinion, the attorney general's office found that the City of Salyersville "subverted the intent of the Open Records Act, short of denial of inspection," when it refused a request by Jeff Ross for city employee payroll records. The city had demanded that Ross be more specific. The original request was "adequate for a reasonable person" to determine what he wanted, the decision said.

In the League of Cities case, Brandon Voelker told the KOG Blog he planned to use the information in a lawsuit against the league, accusing it of wrongfully defending the first case, which involved a claim for damages caused by a Northern Kentucky sewer overflow. The league had provided insurance to the sewer district.

The league claimed that giving Voelker the information would create unfair competitive or commercial advantage to other insurance providers, since legal costs help make up its insurance rates. The opinion rejected the argument: "We are well aware that KLC occupies a unique position as a public entity, subject to the Open Records Act, that is engaged in a competitive business. Nevertheless, KLC offers no proof of competitive harm from disclosure of the records."

The opinion added, "The legislature's apparent goal in enacting these provisions was to expose KLC, and similarly situated public entities to the light of public scrutiny and not, simultaneously, to establish exceptions that swallow the rule of openness and accountability." For more background on KLC and the Kentucky Association of Counties' open-government issues, click here.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Danville editor wins James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment

John Nelson, editor of the Advocate-Messenger in Danville, Ky., last night received the James Madison Award for service to the First Amendment, presented by the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center in School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the University of Kentucky. (A-M photo by Clay Jackson)

Nelson, who also oversees editorial operations of other Schurz Communications newspapers in Kentucky, won the award because "He has fought for open government in a number of important ways," former Kentucky Post editor Judith Clabes, the award's first winner, said in presenting it to him. She cited the nomination from Kentucky Press Association Executive Director David Thompson, who wrote, “Few people in Kentucky are as adamant about open government. If more had the drive that John Nelson has exhibited during his journalism career, there would be a demand from every corner of the state that all public agencies operate in ‘sunshine’ and make the agency’s business truly the public’s business.”

As KPA president in 2004, Nelson led Kentucky's first statewide public-records audit and was instrumental in creating the KPA Legal Defense Fund and a lawsuit that KPA filed to open juvenile court proceedings. Federal courts rejected the suit's arguments, but the Court of Appeals "interpreted state law in a way it had never before been interpreted, giving judges an opening to allow the press into the courtroom at their own discretion," he said in his acceptance remarks. Nelson has also been president of the Bluegrass Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Paper appeals ruling on redacted police reports

The Kentucky New Era will appeal a court ruling that allows police to remove addresses and telephone numbers from crime reports before they're released, editor Jennifer P. Brown said Monday. She said Jon Fleischaker, one of Kentucky's top media lawyers, will represent the Hopkinsville newspaper in the appeal of the Christian Circuit Court decision last week.

The case stems from an open records request filed with the city of Hopkinsville by the New Era a year ago for arrest reports and incident reports about a suspicious fire. The city withheld "open case" files, but on those files it released, it removed information on race, gender, date of birth, ethnicity, addresses and telephone numbers.

The paper appealed to the attorney general's office, which ruled that the city could not apply blanket redactions to police reports, but must show case-by-case why certain information should be withheld. The city appealed to circuit court, which initially agreed with the attorney general, but last week amended its ruling to allow for the routine redaction of Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, home addresses and telephone numbers. The paper agreed on the first two, but will argue against the withholding of addresses and phone numbers in its appeal.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Transparency Conference at UK Oct. 19-20

The University of Kentucky's College of Communications and Information Sciences will hold a two-day session next month on Transparency and Open Access to Information that includes a panel on open government and another on open media.
"Open 2.0" will begin Oct. 19 with sessions on Open Geographies, Open Governmenet, Open Media and Open Libraries. The next will have panels on Open Entrepeneurship, Open Finances and Open Source. The main guest speaker on Oct. 20 will be Dr. Sean Gorman, founder and president of FortiusOne Inc., an Arlington, VA-based company "founded to change the way organizations visualize and analyze data for real-time problem solving," according to the company's website. The title of Gormans speech is "What the human sensor net can tell us about markets, society and disaster."
Details of the schedule and location of the conference can be found at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Attorney general's office says 2 fiscal courts and a city commission violated open-meetings law

In decisions released today, the state attorney general’s office said the city of Danville and some county fiscal courts violated state open-government laws. The attorney general's opinions in open-meetings and open-records matters have the force of law unless overruled in court. The attorney general ruled that:

The Nelson County Fiscal Court failed to adequately describe the reason for a closed session June 22. The court had cited both pending and proposed litigation as reasons for closing the meeting. In an appeal filed by Kevin Brumley, the attorney’s office said the state Open Meetings Act requires more than simply a citation of the act and a general statement such as “litigation,” but said the standard was different for “pending litigation” than “proposed litigation” because timing is often crucial in deciding to file a lawsuit, while a pending lawsuit already was on open file at the courthouse. The former reason was insufficient, while the latter was sufficient.

The Rockcastle County Fiscal Court violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to give all the required notices before every special meeting held between Jan. 1, 2008 and May 28, 2010. The ruling came in an appeal filed by County Clerk Norma Houk, who complained that the court had held some 43 meetings in that period without properly notifying those the act requires to be notified. The law requires that 24 hours before the meeting, notice go to members of the court and news media, and that a notice be posted in a conspicuous place in the building where the meeting will be held. The fiscal court also failed to reply to Ms. Houk’s complaint as required by law, the ruling said.

The Milton City Commission in Trimble County violated the Open Meetings Act by failing to give proper notice of two meetings of a quorum of its members at which public business was discussed, failing to record minutes of these meetings, and failing to respond to an open meetings complaint alleging these violations. That ruling came in an appeal filed by Shannon Hoskins over meetings involving the hiring of Water and Sewer Department Supervisor Mark Bates.

In an open-records case, the City of Danville failed to respond to a request for records within the three days required by the Open Records Act, but since the precise records asked for by Clay Moore – “signed copies” of several municipal parking-garage lease agreements – could not be found, the unsigned copies it eventually furnished were sufficient.